Residents query Brindisi on wide range of topics at town hall meeting

Published Feb 16, 2017 at 4:10pm

A crowd of about 50 people heard from Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi Jr. at a town hall forum in Rome Wednesday evening, and then had a chance to ask questions on the spot.

Brindisi, D-119, Utica, said he likes to have such meetings because they afford a chance for direct contact with constituents. He noted that since the governor did not make the Mohawk Valley a stop on his State of the State tour last month, it is also a chance for him to bring details of the proposed state budget to residents.

Brindisi outlined many aspects of the governor’s proposed spending plan, including a multi-billion-dollar deficit, education spending, money for water and sewer infrastructure and the governor’s plan to compel counties to do more with shared services and purchasing.

Residents then asked questions ranging across many topics, including the future of the School Tax Relief program and the nano site in Marcy.

Brindisi also discussed a key in Rome’s continued development: Griffiss Business and Technology Park. He said he hopes that one benefit to having a president from New York State could be support for federal facilities locally.

“One thing that always concerns me is Griffiss and the federal installations there.” He continued: “If we ever lost the labs it would send shockwaves.” He said he hopes the feds will “grow the mission” rather than look to make cuts at any of the facilities in Rome: the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Eastern Air Defense Sector or the Defense Finance and Accounting Services.

There was plenty of talk about the future of health care, the Affordable Care Act and jobs in the health care industry. There was support for the Affordable Care Act, discussion of the future of the New York State Health Insurance Program and advocacy for the direct support professionals working in the private sector.

Allan Foote of Whitesboro read a statement about these professionals who serve the intellectually and developmentally disabled. First, he noted, starting wages for these full-time caregivers compared to their state-employed counterparts averages 35 percent less. Many must work “extensive overtime or a second job, just to make ends meet. It is a travesty that our State Government seems to value so little those who provide such important care to the disabled.”

There was also a lot of talk about the governor’s proposal to offer some kinds of free tuition at state colleges and universities. Brindisi said he’s skeptical that the price tag would be anywhere near the governor’s estimate of $150 million.

“I’m not sure it’s the right solution to the problem,” he said. It would only benefit about 3 percent of those attending such schools, and has dangerous loopholes that eliminate too many students it should help with such limitations as requiring at least 15 credits per semester. He suggested focusing more educational innovations on early childhood education, to make sure more students are able to get to college in the first place. He also suggested that the money could be better spent on infrastructure, schools or aid to municipalities. A better option for college students, he said, would be to increase the Tuition Assistance Program.

Rome City School District Board of Education President Paul Fitzpatrick said the district is “in a bind,” restricted by the state-imposed property tax cap. He said the district should be in decent shape this year, but warned that such restrictions could soon impact the fund balance. He noted that Rome’s high rate of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs with tenants at Griffiss hurts because it circumvents the typical tax revenue structure.

Common Council member Louis J. DiMarco Jr., D-7, echoed Fitzpatrick on the tax cap, saying it’s “very difficult.” It erodes the fiscal reserves and puts even more pressure on the tax base, he said. Brindisi noted that the state keeping aid to municipalities flat in recent years despite the cap and other factors does not help.